Robert Dowling travelled to London in 1857 to further his art studies and career. He studied at Leigh’s Academy and subsequently exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of British Artists, playing up the exotic nature of his colonial background.
He painted popular moralising subjects from modern life; themes sourced from literature and history, and paintings based on the Bible. He created the most substantial Orientalist images by any Australian artist at the time, and visited Egypt and the Holy Land in 1872–73 to gain information for these and his biblical subjects.
During his 27 years in Britain he continued to send paintings out to Australia, many of which were acquired by private collectors and the National Gallery of Victoria.